At the risk of potentially causing you, our beloved readers, to OD on stories and pictures of our underwater escapades while in the Philippines, I’m… going to share yet another aquatic adventure. It seems only right, since when you’re on an island, there is only so much time you can spend whizzing around on a motorbike or lazing in a hammock before the call of the ocean becomes too much to resist. Trust me, our time on Camiguin was pretty much a scientific study of exactly this.

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As Camiguin was our first stop after having completed our diving certification, we did want to put our newly minted skills to good use and made it a priority to get one day of diving in. Unfortunately, because our underwater camera was only rated to 12m, but as Open Water divers we frequently go as deep as 18m, we were unable to take any photos on this outing. And since talking about diving is not nearly so fun as actually seeing pictures or videos of it, I will simply say that guided by cost factors and simple intuition, we chose to dive with Johnny’s, whom we were very happy with, and largely enjoyed our diving experience as a whole. Our day of diving involved two sites, Tangub Hotsprings and Sunken Cemetery, the former of which was fairly disappointing due to broken/smashed coral and a lack of fish, but the latter was much healthier and far more vibrant and a lot of fun to dive. There are likely better dive sites in and around Camiguin, but most other sites have depth or current issues that would have been too challenging for us as newly minted divers. If we ever find ourselves in Camiguin again, I’d be interested in diving some of the farther sites.

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Lucky for you (and for us!), Camiguin’s underwater delights are not limited to those of the diving variety. Indeed, the island is home to a Giant Clam Sanctuary (by which I mean, a sanctuary for Giant Clams, not a giant sanctuary for clams of average size), which obviously Tony & I took the time to visit. The sanctuary is actually run by Siliman University, which has one of the best marine biology programs in the Philippines and we had already seen proof of their excellent conservation efforts over at our secret island where we learned to dive. Knowing what great work they had done with turtles, we were very excited to see what they could do with Giant Clams.

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Despite being one of Camiguin’s top rated attractions, it required a lot of patience and persistence to find the sanctuary, as it was terribly signed and required riding down a rather treacherous unmarked road that would have been completely impassable had the ground been remotely wet. However, our dedication was rewarded when we reached the sanctuary and found we were the only visitors there (for the sake of full disclosure, however, it’s possible we were the only visitors on the entire island…).

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Our entrance fee to the sanctuary not only included a guided snorkeling tour, but we also got a quick tour of the land facilities which featured a primer on the 6 species of Giant Clams as well as what preservation goals the sanctuary has. The chief goal seems to be to monitor and produce a safe space for reproduction and growth; initially this is done in tanks on land to protect the clams from predators. At a certain point, they are transplanted out into the protected reef area where they continue grow—some of the adult clams in the sanctuary have reached their maximum size and are now a whopping ONE METER in length!

Our two guides took us out to the sanctuary’s shallow reef, where we got to wade amongst rows and rows of Giant Clams. It was a lot like walking through an underwater garden, and I was delighted and amazed by how vibrant and colorful the clams can be. Some of the patterns were so intricate and psychedelic, the colors so saturated, that the soft interiors of the clams looked more like they were formed from silken fabric than flesh! I am always stunned when I see evidence of how dazzling and extraordinary nature can be, and although the clams were far from dynamic subjects, it was still fascinating to see how big they could get and in addition to their exotic good looks. And we still got plenty of action from the protective little clusters of clown fish that were fiercely guarding their knots of anemones that were scattered amongst the rows of clams.

As we waded deeper, the current got stronger and the remainder of our tour was conducted on our bellies as we simply allowed to force of the water to drag us along. Despite the pull, the water was crystal clear (sometimes strong current can result in murkier water as sand and other debris gets swirled about), which allowed our guides to point out the wide varieties of coral that make up the reef (we spotted some massive table corals and beautifully furrowed brain corals) as well as the many fish that darted around in this spectacular aquatic playground.

Conditions were perfectly suited for developing my underwater photography skills, and I was having a wonderful time drifting along taking some of my best underwater photos to date when disaster struck: my camera started making whirring noises and the back screen started flashing on and off. I was still able to take photos, but something was clearly not right. I handed the camera off to Tony and he tried his best to figure out its trauma, but unfortunately the camera gave up the ghost a few minutes later and just refused to turn on. Initially we thought that the front shutter had gotten jammed, but we eventually realized that it had clearly leaked somehow. This was so frustrating, because not only were we now without an underwater camera, but we had used the camera in the water less than 10 times and followed the care instructions to a T. As you can see from the underwater photos we have posted on this site, the caliber of the photos we took with our Panasonic Lumix TS4 were really fantastic, especially for a simple point & shoot. It even took great photos on land, and I was SO upset that it ultimately proved so unreliable. I would imagine that most people looking into this camera would intend to take advantage of its purported waterproof capabilities, but given that it crapped out on us after so little use, I would be very reluctant to unequivocally recommend it.

Prior to its premature death, we were really happy with the Panasonic Lumix TS4, so our qualified recommendation is this: get it with an underwater case. We had been considering getting one so we could take it diving down past 12m. It may seem redundant to get a waterproof camera and an underwater housing, but after this experience, I would likely never feel comfortable taking an unprotected camera into the water again.

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We paid 250 PHP (~$6US) per person to visit the sanctuary, which covered our entrance fee (which was bundled with an additional mandatory guide fee for anyone who wants to snorkel) and our snorkel rental fee. If we had wanted to rent fins, that would have been an additional fee as well, so we opted out of that.

I did feel like this was a tad pricey and was annoyed that it seemed like you were charged for every little thing, but in the end, the money does go straight into the sanctuary, which does good work and is certainly a worthwhile cause so I didn’t want to be too much of a money-grubbing jerk. Ultimately, I’m happy to spend my money on an organization that is clearly passionate about protecting the natural resources of the Philippines, and it does elate the science geek inside of me to see other scientists doing such great work. Plus, we got to learn some things, had a lot of fun, and got to see some very cool and very large creatures that we had never seen before. Camera casualties aside, we had a great time visiting Camiguin’s Giant Clam Sanctuary and I would highly recommend it to anyone who makes it to the island.

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (13)

  1. April 24, 2013 at 10:32 am
    Apr. 24, '13

    Those photos are absolutely amazing, which makes it even more sickening that your camera crapped out.

    Seriously. That first photo looks otherworldly. Beautiful shots. I’ve never seen such a thing as a giant clam!
    jenn aka the picky girl recently posted..I’m a Book Pusher 2: WBN 2013

    • April 25, 2013 at 8:15 pm
      Apr. 25, '13

      I think I thought giant clams were just something out of sci fi novels, but no, they really do exist! And they really are gorgeous! 😀

  2. April 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm
    Apr. 24, '13

    Clams! They are fascinating to look at. I can’t imagine seeing them in person. Sorry about your camera.
    Carmel recently posted..Thai Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Tofu

    • April 25, 2013 at 8:16 pm
      Apr. 25, '13

      When I first heard about the sanctuary, part of me thought it sounded cool, but another part of me was like, “They’re clams… are they really going to be that interesting?!?” I’m glad we went to see them because they really were fascinating to see in person, and far prettier than the itty bitty clams we’re used to seeing supermarkets, etc., back home!

  3. April 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm
    Apr. 24, '13

    Equipment malfunction, it’s a drag. I’ve also had my problems with cameras so I guess it’s something we all have to deal with, then move on. I hope it’s something you can have fixed when you get back to civilization. I had a mirror come loose inside my “film” SLR (back in the days) and I ended up just using super glue and fixing it myself. In the service, we used to call that “Field Expediency”. We learned there are many field expediency situations when we were traveling.

    Great pictures, and the clams, WOW! I like those kind of places, where you’re the only ones there and they turn out to be fantastic. I did get a kick out of your complaint of $6.00 being too much. If / when you return “home”, that six bucks will sound like a deal!

    BTW Try sealing up your camera in a zip lock baggie full of rice for a few days. It worked on my daughters smart phone that she dropped in the toilet. The rice seams to suck out the moisture. Good Luck!

    • April 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm
      Apr. 25, '13

      Oh, we frequently comment about how we have so quickly acclimated to prices here and once we go home, everything will seem unnecessarily expensive! I can definitely remember when we were planning our trip how we’d look at hotel booking sites for various countries and think, “Oh! We can get a gorgeous hotel room in Thailand for just $40US per night!” Now we think that kind of money for a hotel in this part of the world is INSANE. So it’s all relative; $6US won’t even get you into a movie back home, I know, but in the Philippines, that is a serious chunk of change!

  4. April 25, 2013 at 8:05 pm
    Apr. 25, '13

    Ummmmm, I’m not sure how I feel about these giant clams. They actually look creepy as hell. A friend on Facebook just dove the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and has been posting pics of giant clams as well. I don’t think I like all the giant clam going on in my internet-land right now! Haha. Glad you guys supported a sanctuary though! Good work!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..A bunch of Brazilians and a headache.

    • April 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm
      Apr. 25, '13

      I promise, the giant clams were not creepy at all! They were way too colorful to be creepy!

  5. April 26, 2013 at 9:25 pm
    Apr. 26, '13

    We have just been snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, and tried using an underwater sleeve for my iPhone but somehow it leaked too and now the home button doesn’t work! We managed a few good pics and videos but we were thinking of getting a real underwater camera. We’ll have to think some more about this now. We are also thinking of learning to dive so I think we’ll get an underwater camera, just not sure which one yet.
    Great pics as always!
    Andrew recently posted..New Zealand Travel Costs for One Month

    • April 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm
      Apr. 27, '13

      So sorry to hear about your iphone! Experiences like this make me so paranoid!

      Though I have only heard of a handful of people who have tried diving and not enjoyed it, it does happen, so whether you really want to get an underwater case (they can be pricey) will probably depend on how much you like diving. For us, having a camera with a case (we wound up getting replacement gear in Taiwan) has been great because our case is rated for as far down as we would ever want to go, whereas our old camera we never could have taken diving on its own anyway as it couldn’t go deep enough. Also, underwater photography is REALLY hard, so you may also decide to just let your underwater memories be stored in your brain rather than a picture. We rarely get photos as nice as these! 😉

  6. August 24, 2014 at 4:00 am
    Aug. 24, '14

    Hi,
    This blog post was dated 23rd of April. I would assume that you’ve been traveling to Camiguin around this time, which is the best time for diving to be in Camiguin.
    I’m not sure who told you that other dive sites around Camiguin have “depth and current” issues, but especially from mid-March to early June there are virtually no current issues in any of the dive sites around Camiguin and depth issues are non-existent for Open Water (or equivalent) divers.
    With Action Geckos we usually don’t even go beyond 20 meters, because in most of the dive sites around Camiguin there’s nothing to see anymore beyond 20-25 meters.

    If you ever return to Camiguin, ask to be taken to Black Forest, Kilambing, Coral Garden, Algens, Balbagon and/or Mantigue Island.

    Do note that there are no big fish around here. No whale sharks, manta rays or sharks.

    If you want more information, you can always write me a mail 🙂

    Arno

    • August 25, 2014 at 8:49 am
      Aug. 25, '14

      We were actually traveling in Camiguin a few months earlier—we were there in November and actually every dive shop we visited mentioned there being current and depth issues for new divers, including Action Geckos. For newly minted divers, we were happy with the diving we experienced at Camiguin and although I have no idea when we’ll be back (the Philippines is a huge country after all, and we have so much of it left to explore!), I’d love to try diving there again and to check out some other sites. Thanks for the recommendations on sites to visit—I think we dove Coral Garden, but the rest are all new to me.

      • August 25, 2014 at 9:11 am
        Aug. 25, '14

        November is indeed the time for stronger currents on the north and north-western side of the island. It’s the Habagat season.
        But the dive sites on the eastern part of the island (Balbagon, Tupsan, Algens and Mantigue) are still very good, and again, depths are not an issue on any dive sites around Camiguin. All dive sites are suitable for beginning certified divers.

        We take divers of all levels to all the dive sites, weather permitting, and have never had any problems nor complaints.

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